Balance and counterpoint is one of the most important things to me in writing music — not only note-to-note in a single style and tempo, but in a much broader sense. Through the Yi-Ching (the Chinese philosophical work Book of Changes, 5th century BC), I became interested in the balance between that which already exists, and that which has not yet come to be. I learned that ways of balancing the existing and the potential are truly unlimited. This idea began to enlarge my understanding of counterpoint. I began to think that it could include not only the relationship of notes, but of styles, tempos, timbres, dynamics, structures — even of different ages, of the converging worlds of East and West.
Intercourse of Fire and Water is the first work in my Yi cycle. To create this series of concerti, I begin with an Ur-piece — my orchestral “concerto” Yi0 — and each time superimpose an independent work for a solo instrument. The orchestra is “that which already exists”; the solo, the potential which is to be discovered. Music materials are not mixed haphazardly; I seek to discover relationships or similarities between the elements and then weave them together into a new entity. (Consequently, each of the Yi concerti, which also includes Yi2 for guitar and orchestra and Yi3 for bianzhong, cello solo and orchestra, is distinctive in sound and style.) The orchestral Yi0 is likewise a counterpoint of the old and new; it utilizes fragments from myMarco Polo (1996), Silk Road (1989), In Distance (1987), and Eight Colors for String Quartet (1986-88), to symbolize my own musical “journey” since moving to New York City from China in 1986.
Intercourse of Fire and Water (Yi1) was written for and dedicated to cellist Anssi Karttunen. He premiered the work on 13 March 1995 with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Helsinki Biennale. —Tan Dun